Has the shock worn off yet?
It's been two days since the San Diego Chargers knocked out the Indianapolis Colts, and yet, some NFL observers are still a bit stunned that Indy won't be playing in this Sunday's AFC Championship Game in Foxboro.
But the Patriots aren't surprised.
"No, not at all," insisted WR Wes Welker. "I mean, they've been the best football team this last part of the season. They're playing their best football right now and that's what you have to do in this league is play well in December and January."
"We're not surprised that they're in the AFC Championship Game," DL Richard Seymour declared. "If you go back and look at the film, there's a reason why they're here."
Against the Colts, San Diego couldn't finish the game with all its starters on offense. QB Philip Rivers and All-Pro RB LaDainian Tomlinson both suffered knee injuries that forced them to leave the game early. Yet, the Chargers still found a way to win
"They're a team with a lot of depth," Seymour observed. "They can do a lot of different things. If a guy goes down, they have another guy that can step in and keep the train rolling. We have a lot of respect for this team, and they're well coached."
That didn't appear to be the case when New England hosted San Diego in Week 2, when the Pats rolled to a 38-14 victory. But as the Patriots pointed out Tuesday, a lot has changed since September.
For one, they've made some significant personnel moves. CB Antonio Cromartie went from a reserve to a starter to a Pro Bowler. And the Chargers traded for former Miami Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers, who has made an immediate impact on the Chargers already potent offense.
"He's a great player back there," Welker said of Cromartie, who had 10 interceptions this season. "He has great ball skills, he's really fast, and he's done a great job of shutting some guys down. He's a ball hawk, and making a lot of plays out there for them."
Welker knows plenty about Chambers, too, a former teammate in Miami.
"Chris is an extreme talent. You know, he goes up and gets the ball really well He's going to be ready to play. He's definitely a force, he's got great speed, great hands, and he's a great guy. And he's going to do a great job for them. We're definitely going to have our hands full with him."
The Patriots offense will also have its hands full with the Chargers defense, who've been forcing a lot more turnovers in the latter half of the year.
"That's how they've been winning. They create turnovers, they don't turn the ball over, and they put points on the board," said Seymour.
"Getting turnovers on defense. They're doing a real great job of that," RB and captain Kevin Faulk stated. "Their guys are playing with a lot more intensity. You can tell by the way guys are moving around on the field."
New England, meanwhile, had the fewest turnovers in the NFL this year.
"Each and every game that we go into, the emphasis is protecting the ball, not giving the other team opportunities to make plays," said Faulk. "At this time of the year, everybody's good and everyone wants to capitalize on your turnovers."
"It was something that we wanted to be good at this year and we were able to do it, and we've just got to keep it going throughout the playoffs," said Welker.
The players acknowledge that while the Chargers have changed since their Week 2 encounter, so, too, have the Pats.
"You've seen what we've done. Everyone's seen what we've done. Obviously, defensively we have to do a better job," Seymour conceded. "We're going to have our work cut out for us. They're putting points up on the board and they're not allowing a lot of points."
Seymour added that having the extra time to prepare for a home contest is something the Pats are hoping to use to their advantage.
"Obviously anytime you play, you want to be at home. We have to take advantage of this workweek, and out-prepare this team, and understand what we're facing. We can't leave any stone unturned this week."
And it doesn't ease the Patriots minds that Tomlinson and Rivers appear questionable to play and TE Antonio Gates, who hurt a toe the previous week against Tennessee, is less than 100 percent healthy.
"Who's hurt are the teams they're playing against," Seymour quipped.
And Faulk noted, "They're going to give 150 percent to try to beat us."
No surprise there.